Is the "End of History" back on track?
The authoritarian powers are stumbling and the liberal countries are resilient. But don't get too cocky...
My post about China’s Zero Covid problems looks to have been pretty well-timed. In the two days since I wrote it, protests against Zero Covid — and against the CCP’s draconian mismanagement in general — have erupted all across China. Stunningly, protesters in the streets are openly calling for Xi Jinping to resign. The demonstrations started in Xinjiang and Shanghai and are spreading like wildfire, including to Beijing itself.
The videos are far too numerous to post here, but if you want to follow this fast-developing story, my “China news” Twitter list is a decent place to start. It’s not clear yet whether the situation will fizzle, or will end in a bloody 1989-style crackdown, or will create some sort of political change. But given the contradictions inherent in the eternal Zero Covid policy, combined with Xi’s newly dictatorial powers and general governing style, it seems unlikely that China’s economy and society will simply bounce right back to the social and economic stability of the pre-Covid years.
In fact, China is not the only authoritarian power that seems to be stumbling badly lately. Russia is losing a war to an opponent a quarter of its size, while Iran is suffering its own sustained massive protests for women’s rights. Meanwhile, the liberal democracies of the world are looking increasingly stable and resilient. The U.S. economy is humming along with record low unemployment, and the recent midterm results look like a sign of stability. Europe is weathering its energy crisis well, and also looks politically stable. India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, and most Latin American countries all seem to be doing fine. The fad of autocratic strongman leaders appears to be going out of style; while in liberal countries this just means they lose elections, in authoritarian countries the people are stuck with their Mussolini knock-offs.
Right now, it looks like the tide of illiberalism that I rather melodramatically called “the Darkness” is getting pushed back a bit.
This naturally has a few people wondering whether the political scientist Francis Fukuyama (pictured in the meme at the top) was right after all, and liberal democracy really is the enduringly best way to organize a society — a thesis he famously dubbed the “End of History”. This thesis has come under attack, and even ridicule, in recent decades as the U.S. seemed mired in social division and economic stagnation while China rose spectacularly. Now it’s enjoying a minor resurgence, at least among some corners of social media and the punditocracy. Fukuyama himself believes that recent events validate his thesis of three decades prior.
So let’s talk a little bit about Fukuyama’s ideas, and what they can tell us about the great contest now unfolding across our world.
Fukuyama was more right than people think
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